The best late-night joints
Something of a local institution, this long-running shop is located near the southern edge of Aoyama Cemetery, close to the Nishi-Azabu crossing. A favourite of party animals on the way home from Nishi-Azabu or Roppongi, Entotsuya serves not only delicious noodles but also some fine, garlic-flavoured moyashi and sausages. The shoyu ramen, prepared with thin noodles and fried green onions, is simple and makes for a perfect match with the barracks-like surroundings. Don't worry – despite the appearance, the shop won't actually collapse on you (we hope).
Found alongside the Shibuya River a few minutes' walk from Ebisu Station, Afuri attracts a diverse crowd of noodle-lovers practically around the clock. The standard choice here is the shio ramen, which can be had with either the simple tanrei soup or the maro option that comes with added chicken fat. Both soups are mixtures of chicken, seafood and konbu seaweed – a flavour-packed combo that should stimulate even the most tired of taste buds. For a quirky option, try the yuzu-scented yuzushio-men, served in a bright golden soup and topped with firm chashu pork.
An invader from Osaka, the Kamukura chain operates three locations in the Tokyo area. This one, found smack in the middle of Kabukicho, serves the confidently named oishii ramen ('delicious ramen'): perfected through the time-honoured process of trial and error, the concoction actually does live up to its moniker. The owner, a former hotel chef, oversees the production of Kamukura's lightly sweet, soy sauce-based soup, which completes the medium-thick noodles and toppings like Chinese cabbage and tender pork. First-timers will want to enjoy the dish as it is, while veterans may prefer to experiment by adding some raw garlic. This one gets addictive real fast, and the shop's all day, every day opening hours add to the temptation.
The shop of choice for Ikebukuro's late-night partiers, Muteki sizzles with a soy sauce-flavoured, fatty tonkotsu soup that goes down very smoothly and makes for a nice match with the medium-thick, pleasantly firm noodles. Make sure to add some garlic to the mix, and ordering some extra chashu pork also merits consideration. Their most popular dish is the honmaru-men, while the milder and less greasy genkotsu-men is completely adequate as well. Queues tend to form even at night, but customer turnover is rapid and everything functions remarkably efficiently all the way up to closing time (4am).
The Akasaka location of this Chinese-style ramen chain serves a wide variety of noodle mixtures, all relatively predictable but tasty nonetheless. Their seasonal specialities are always worth sampling, while the signature sour-and-spicy sura tanmen and sesame-flavoured tantanmen are recommended for rookies. You get a choice of either knife-cut or extra-thin noodles, and additional toppings are available as well. The shop stays open until 4am and attracts an, uh, interesting crowd during the early morning hours.
One of the many noteworthy noodle shops around Meguro's Gonnosukezaka, Ikeda specialises in tsukemen with a distinctive, excellently balanced double soup (seafood and chicken). As the handmade, medium-thick flat noodles maintain the same high quality, it's difficult not to wholeheartedly recommend this one for any and all friends of tsukemen. Topping choices range from fresh lemon to flavoured eggs (ajitama) and chashu pork, while standard ramen is also available.
Found under the Yamanote tracks at Gotanda Station, Kimihan might look a little seedy from the outside, but is actually a well-run, clean and efficient eatery. Operated by the company behind the popular Tetsu tsukemen chain, they serve traditional chuka soba with niboshi (dried sardine) soup – a pleasantly aromatic mixture that isn't overly greasy and packs plenty of punch. The curly noodles are of the medium-thick sort, and strike up a nice balance with the soup. If you're only going once, try the tokusei chuka soba, their flagship dish, and choose from sides like fried rice, gyoza and wonton dumplings. Take-out is available and the shop stays open until the wee hours.
The Showa-era atmosphere can almost be smelled at Ezogiku, an offshoot of its Takadanobaba namesake. Located under the Yamanote tracks at Okachimachi Station, the shop is easy to spot by its eye-catching scarlet sign. First-timers will want to order the old-school miso ramen, served with cream-coloured, curly noodles and a whole heap of moyashi sprouts and menma. The taste can be tweaked with sesame seeds, garlic and chilli pepper, but doesn't really require any more enhancement than that. Those tired of miso ramen might want to try their equally passable shio or shoyu choices. This one stays open until 5am, serving hungry night owls until the first trains start running on the tracks above.
Specialising in Saga-style ramen, a rare sight in Tokyo, Midori opened on an Asakusa backstreet in 2010 and has enjoyed constant popularity ever since. Their tonkotsu soup is mild, slightly sweet but still full-bodied, making for an impressive mixture that stands out from the crowd. This inoffensive, smooth taste caresses your insides and works nicely both at lunchtime and after a heavy drinking session. Midori also offers a full selection of snacks in the evening – rare for a ramen-centric joint like this. We have to recommend their inarizushi, fried in oil and flavoured with Saga-made soy sauce.
What's a 'ramen bar', you ask? Well, if this one's anything to go by, it's a stylish watering hole that also serves absolutely delectable noodles. Rock, a collaborative venture with renowned Machida restaurant 69 'n' Roll One, hits new heights with its Tsukishima Rock creation, an orthodox, lightly flavoured serving of shoyu ramen with a gentle mouthfeel and savoury aftertaste. The thin noodles ensure that the dish goes down smoothly, leaving you full but not the least bit weighed down. For a worthy alternative, try the 6/8 (hachiroku), made with a punchy scallop and seaweed broth. As is to expected from a bar, the drink menu is extensive and reasonably priced.
The first Tokyo outpost of Niigata-based bar and noodle shop Jun is renowned for its gently aromatic, soy sauce-based double soup drawn from pork bones and seafood (primarily dried sardines). Mixed in are thick, firm noodles brought in daily from Niigata, and the fat level of the dish can be adjusted on a five-point scale according to your preferences. Don't go for the maximum amount though – your bowl will look like it was transported through a blizzard. For the full monty, try the marutoku ramen, topped with menma, chashu pork, boiled eggs and nori seaweed. They also serve miso ramen, chuka soba and a few other dishes, and stay open until 2am (last orders at 1.45am).
Located near Kichijoji Station's park exit, Dokutsuya offers ramen with soup made from chicken and pork bones, carefully cooked to produce a rich broth, and topped with spinach and thick noodles. Calling the soup rich doesn’t really do it justice, so it would probably be advisable for first-time visitors to order some of the slightly less fatty options. If you’re visiting at night, we recommend first ordering the kyabecha, an appetiser made with finely chopped cabbage and pork soaked in a ‘special sauce’, and downing a beer as you wait for your bowl to arrive.